February is Black History Month. While The Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce celebrates all our members throughout the year, this month we are shinning a spotlight on our members within the African American community. Join us all month long for our 2nd annual spotlight series. This special feature helps our communities learn a little more about some of their business leaders who work so hard to make it a community to be proud of.
Today, we would like you to get to know Carla Young of the Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce.
Since its beginning in 1926, The Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce (GBCC) mission has been to build an environment for businesses to grow and prosper. Our Chamber supports its members by providing both a voice and a forum to help shape public policy and enhance opportunities for exposure, connections, and growth. Our responsibility is to lead by example, holding ourselves to the highest governance principles, ethical standards, and business practices. Carla transitioned into her role as Director of Membership & Community Engagement in August 2021 from her member company, Aldon, who has been a member for decades. In addition to her primary responsibilities, she oversees various member programs including Chamber 101, Membership Development Committee, NextExecs (Young Professional Group), Women Network, and Cultural Roundtable Groups. Carla also serves on the Bethesda Transportation Solutions Advisory Committee and donates her time to various charities including the annual Thanksgiving Give Back in her hometown of Baltimore, MD.
We asked Carla three important questions. Read her responses below.
Q1. What are some challenges you faced early on that helped prepare you for the role you are in today and how did you overcome them?
Growing up as a sibling of someone with special needs I learned to defend for my brother because he could not defend for himself. I never imagined I would not know how to defend for myself, but that is exactly what happened for most of my adolescent and even young adult years. While I was protecting him from the bullies on the playground, I forgot to protect myself. With two parents having varying ideas on how to respond to the bullies, it was hard for me to know which direction to go in. One parent is telling you to turn the other cheek and the other parent is telling you to sock them in the eye. I went with the latter and for that I was considered weak.
It wasn’t until I left for college and attended The University of Maryland Eastern Shore did I realize that not only did I have a voice, but that my voice deserved to be heard. I never had any problems speaking up for others or even fighting their battles, I just had a problem with fighting my own. Now when you are naturally a kindhearted person, you will always attract “wolves” who try to bite and scratch at you, but I learned that my inner strength is bigger than their bark.
It takes an infinite amount of time spent getting to know yourself, engaging in countless hours of therapy/counseling, and often relying on your inner circle to remind you of your inner voice. If I hadn’t found my voice I would not be where I am today nor would I be able to advocate for friends and family who have yet to find their own. Stepping into this wonderful, new career I have helped businesses find their voice and setting a table where all are welcomed. My passion is growth, I work to develop strategies to meet new companies, and explore ways to engage their team into what we do here at the chamber. This is working because in my short time we have welcomed nearly 100 new members.
Q2. Who/What is your biggest inspiration in both your personal and professional life?
The older I get the more I appreciate all that my parents have done for me in my lifetime. My mom inspires me to be compassionate, thoughtful, and caring. My dad inspires me to be courageous, independent, and strong. My mom has been a care giver most of her life, back to when her own mother suffered from chronic health issues and was constantly in and out of the hospital. That left my mom to be the “woman of the house” for my grandfather and two uncles. She went from being a daughter and sister to a wife and mother in her early 20s which did not allow her time to “find herself”. Caring for my brother with developmental disabilities until his late 30s and then having to care for my dad after his health declined due to complications from his diabetes. That didn’t stop her from going back to school in her late 40s and receive not one, but 3 degrees in Psychology from Coppin State University. From there went on to work as a case manager for recently released drug court convicts and being a substitute teacher for Baltimore City Public Schools. Now it brings me so much joy to have her “live her best life” alongside me in areas of travel, trying new cuisine, attending fun work functions, and experiencing so much that she couldn’t before.
My dad inspires me on a whole other level. He is the true definition of the tough only get tougher. He’s always had his voice for two main reasons, being 1 of 5 kids, and the United States Marine Corp. He is never afraid to speak his mind and always gives 110% effort into everything he does. For my mom to be able to stay home with my brother and I he worked 2 full time jobs until my senior year of high school. Most times I never noticed his hectic schedule because he would still be right in the audience for my school plays, choir performances, and especially at graduation time. My dad will be the first to tell you he may not be the most book smart, but he is the best life teacher you could ever find. It was because of his guidance I felt ready to leave home for college and even move down to Montgomery County 10 years ago. He always tells me there is nothing I can’t do and that he is my number one fan. Fast forward to January 2019 when I received the scariest call of my life. He went into cardiac arrest and the doctors did not expect him to make it. My mom then quickly replied, “You don’t know Mark Young, do you?” Til this day he continues to fight and beat the odds.
So, when you look at me you are looking at the best versions of Mark & Cheryl Young.
Q3. What is your biggest piece of advice to businesses struggling with diversity and inclusivity in the workplace?
We cannot erase nor change what happened in the past, but we can certainly correct what is happening today, and better strategize for will happen in the future. My advice to businesses struggling with diversity and inclusion within their organization is to first educate and/or provide education for those who do not understand the meaning of the terms. You cannot bring about change just to simply satisfy a quota. You must learn to ask the hard to ask questions about why you feel you are struggling to begin with. Are you holding onto to prior traditions? Are you concerned about what your peers may think or say? Are you simply basing your decisions on the information provided by the media? If your answer is yes to any of those questions, then that in lies the problem. Education is KEY training is NEEDED, and open mindedness is required for YOU and your business to succeed in a world filled with diversity and inclusivity.
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